Mark Harper has resigned as immigration minister after discovering that he was employing an illegal immigrant as a cleaner.
In an exchange of letters with the Prime Minister last night, Harper wrote:
In April 2007 I took on a cleaner for my London flat. In doing so, I was very mindful of my legal and financial obligations and undertook a number of checks beforehand. This included consideration of the HMRC tests as to whether the cleaner was performing her work under a contract for services on a self-employed basis which I concluded she was. However, even though there was no legal requirement for me to check her right to work in the UK, I felt that it was appropriate to do so. I therefore took a copy of her passport to verify her identity and also a copy of a Home Office letter, dated 26 January 2006, which stated that she had leave to remain indefinitely in the United Kingdom, including the right to work and engage in a business.
... in the week commencing 20 January 2014 I asked my cleaner for further copies of these documents which she provided on 4 February. On 5 February, I asked my private office to check the details with immigration officials to confirm that all was in order. I was informed on the morning of 6 February that my cleaner did not in fact have indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. I immediately notified the Home Secretary and my Permanent Secretary. This is now a matter for Immigration Enforcement.
The 43-year-old Tory MP for the Forest of Dean added that "although I complied with the law at all times, I consider that as Immigration Minister, who is taking legislation through Parliament which will toughen up our immigration laws, I should hold myself to a higher standard than expected of others."
Laura Pitel of the Times had this to say:
Mark Harper's tale makes a mockery of the Immigration Bill, which asks landlords to vet tenants' migration status. He says he did check.
— Laura Pitel (@laurapitel) February 8, 2014
Harper was previously the minister in charge of launching the controversial "Go Home" vans.
David Cameron accepted Harper's "honourable" resignation, praising him as an effective member of the government. He added: "You will be greatly missed, and I hope very much that you will be able to return to service on the front bench before too long."
The possibility of such incidents has led to talk of a "curse of the Home Office", which the coalition government seems to have been less affected by than Labour. And although it's likely that Harper will return to government after a suitable period on the backbenches - as David Laws did before him - for now, the vacancy gives David Cameron a chance to bring another woman into the upper ranks of his party. That will be welcome after Ed Miliband's PMQs ambush on the Conservatives' "woman problem".
Update: Isabel Hardman at the Spectator has the details of the resulting promotions:
James Brokenshire to become minister of state at home office, Karen Bradley promoted to PUS at Home Office.
— Isabel Hardman (@IsabelHardman) February 8, 2014
In addition, Harriet Baldwin has been promoted from the backbenches to assistant whip, and John Penrose becomes a whip.